CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Two veteran police officers broke down on the stand Monday morning as they described the horrific crime scene at a suburban movie theater where a gunman opened fire on spectators, leaving a bloody trail of bodies.
Aurora police officer Justin Grizzle said he entered the theater where “The Dark Knight Rises” was still playing on the screen and saw people screaming for help, some covered in blood as they desperately sought safety. Fighting back tears, Grizzle said that he slipped on something slick as he tried to make his way into the theater, only later realizing it was blood.
There were “several bodies throughout the theater laying motionless,” Grizzle said. “After what I saw in that theater, I didn't want anyone else to die.” Grizzle eventually drove half a dozen victims to the hospital in a vehicle so inundated with blood he said he could hear it slosh as he rounded corners.
A second officer, Gerald Jonsgaard, testified how someone carried a little girl to him. He felt for a pulse and found none. He said he later learned it was 6-year-old Veronica Moser, the shooting's youngest fatality. In all, 12 people were killed on July 20 and at least 70 were injured.
The two officers were among the first witnesses during a weeklong preliminary hearing that began on Monday. James E. Holmes, 25, faces 166 criminal counts in connection the rampage. The hearing is a legal step to determine if there is enough of a prosecution case to warrant a trial.
Holmes sat still in court on Monday, not displaying any reaction to the testimony. As each witness concluded, prosecutors had them point out Holmes as the man they saw that night outside the theater. They noted that Holmes’ appearance had changed. He no longer had the dyed orange hair of his initial court appearances. His hair is now brown and he wears a full beard.
Some family members in the courtroom hugged one another as the details unfolded. Others stared coldly at Holmes, possibly trying to catch his eye.
The hearing was mostly a prosecution exercise, and although the defense attorneys did offer some cross-examination, they did not challenge the accounts. Public defenders also did not address the scene inside the theater, focusing instead on police testimony that Holmes had put up no resistance to arrest and seemed emotionally detached from the events around him.
It is widely expected that the public defenders will offer an insanity defense at trial. The key issue in the current and future proceedings is whether Holmes will face the death penalty, rather than whether he was the gunman.
Police found spent shell casings and a shotgun at the front of the theater along with fully loaded magazines for semi-automatic weapons. An AR-15 assault rifle was found outside the theater’s emergency exit, a few feet where other officers had arrested Holmes.
Grizzle testified he and other officers were frantically loading the wounded into patrol cars to take them to the hospital because ambulances had not arrived quickly enough. On his first of four trips, Grizzle said a horribly wounded woman, shot in the face and possibly chest, was put in the back seat. A man, also shot in the head, was in the front seat screaming: “That’s my wife, is she going to live?”
The wounded man became panicked because he did not know what had happened to his daughter and begged the officer to turn around. More than once he tried to jump from the speeding patrol car. Grizzle said he had to restrain him. Later the officer learned they were the parents of Veronica Moser.
Grizzle said some of the wounded were so badly hurt it was impossible to tell their gender.
He also told of transporting Caleb Medley, who was shot in the face, to the hospital. He could hear the gravely wounded man struggling to breathe in the back seat. When it got quiet, Grizzle would yell, “Don’t you ... die on me,” and Medley would rally a bit. Medley, a local stand-up comedian, had gone to the theater to celebrate winning a comedy competition. He survived but continues to struggle in his recovery.
Special correspondent Deam reported from Colorado; Times staff writer Muskal from Los Angeles.